Are some of us "math people" and some just aren't??
“I’m just not a math person!” is an all too common phrase proclaimed by many adults. You tend to hear this when someone is stuck on an everyday math problem, and some embarrassment has crept in. When adults say this so frequently, it can slowly get soaked up by the younger crowd and start to sound normal, and like an easy escape as something to say to avoid real world math or problem solving.
Here’s the real deal: It’s just not true- there’s no such thing as not a math person! There’s psychology and neuroscience to prove it!
What’s worse is the harmful effects these statements can have on children’s view of math. As adults we have so much influence in their mindset. Think about it: how often do you hear ‘I’m just not a science person!’ or “I’m just not a reading person!’?
It is unfortunately much more common to hate on math. But there’s good news, too! We can help to put an end to this myth! As math teachers, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to help our students form positive math opinions. It’s all about mindset!
Why It’s Incorrect
Psychologist Patricia Linehan, from Purdue University writes, ”A body of research on conceptions of ability has shown two orientations toward ability. Students with an Incremental orientation believe ability (intelligence) to be malleable, a quality that increases with effort. Students with an Entity orientation believe ability to be nonmalleable, a fixed quality of self that does not increase with effort.”
Basically, some students believe their intelligence increases with their effort, and some students believe it’s all in their genes. It is common for individuals to believe their math ability is strictly genetic, or nonmalleable.
There were two studies done with large experimental and control groups of 7th graders in math; the students who believed intelligence can grow with effort received much higher grades.
Evidently, convincing students that they could make themselves smarter by hard work led them to work harder and get higher grades.
Neuroscience to Back it Up
According to KQED, Neuroscientists did MRI scans of students taking math tests and saw that when a student made a mistake a synapse fired, even if the student wasn’t aware of the mistake. Then if the student recognizes their mistake, a second synapse is fired. This leads to creating new brain pathways.
With this and other studies, we have found that the brain has the ability to grow and shrink; intelligence is not fixed.
A study focusing on cognitive tutoring students with Math Learning Disabilities (MLD) showed promising results. MLD students received 1:1 cognitive tutoring for eight weeks. Prior to the study, functional brain mechanisms showed children with MLD had very different brain patterns when learning math than their peers. This was not the case after the effective intervention, however. The study proves that brains have the ability to grow in math ability.
Why the Myth is Harmful
Adults, especially parents and teachers, have a profound influence in any subject. However, since math tends to get a reputation for being difficult, adults’ words and actions centering around math are especially important.
Comments such as, “I’m just bad at math!” or “I’m not a math person.”, etc. are misleading and perpetuate a dangerous rhetoric. Children hear them, and over time they believe it’s true.
What We Can Do
To expose this myth, there are a few things we need to do:
1. Help Students Develop a Growth Mindset
Chances are, you probably know a lot about this topic. In case you don’t, here’s a quick refresher: People who have a growth mindset believe that success is based on learning and hard work.
Opposite to this idea is a “fixed mindset”, or the mindset that an outcome cannot be changed.
Edutopia gives some ideas on how to encourage a growth mindset, but says you should really focus on feedback. When we praise students for how clever or "smart" they are, we might actually be encouraging them to develop a fixed mindset. On the other hand, if we praise students for the hard work and the process that they’ve engaged in, then that helps to develop a growth potential.
2. Educate Parents
To help form completely positive math opinions, we need to make sure everyone in our students’ lives is on the same page. Just as we need to understand that intelligence isn’t fixed, it is also our responsibility to educate the parents of our students in this.
Meet the Teacher Night or Parent-teacher conferences may be a good time to talk to parents about the importance of instilling a positive outlook on mathematics and encouraging a growth mindset.
We need to help parents realize they shouldn’t discourage their child from making any mistakes, and should encourage perseverance in challenging situations.
3. Make Math Fun, Accessible, and Engaging at EVERY Level
For students of any age, making math approachable is the proactive way to tackle the rumor. Once students have fun and, even better, realize they are having fun in math class, then developing a positive opinion and developing confidence in math just comes naturally!
If you’re searching for an easy way to make math class more enjoyable and accessible for everyone, don't miss taking a quick peek to check out the creative resources available here!
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As we all know, first impressions are everything, and the first day of school is no exception. In the upper grades, it’s especially important to leave a positive impression on your students. You want them to be both comfortable and excited for a year full of growth and learning!
Here are some tips for a memorable and smooth first day of school!
1. Scrap the Typical “Icebreaker” - Engage them with a Unique Activity
Some kids dread icebreaker activities. I was one of them! Instead of an ice breaker that may push some of your students too far out of their comfort zones, consider trying a fun and simple get to know you activity!
I put together this free activity that is not focused on the students themselves. There is no spotlight on anyone! Kids work in small teams to try to complete a number puzzle. They feel like they are getting stuck until they think outside of the box! You can lead them after a while to reach out to another group. It turns out that it is only possible to complete the number puzzle when they combine forces! With two sets of cards, suddenly it becomes easier.
This can be followed up with a discussion about how the principle they learned relates to math class, or teamwork, etc.
If you do want more of a get-to-know-someone option, my friend, Kate, from Kate’s Classroom Cafe shared a great post on Fun Back to School Activities. She provided a free downloadable Get to Know You True/False Activity that sounds perfect for this.
Students create their own T/F quizzes, and then quiz each other to get to know one another. This allows them to talk about themselves, open up and relax, and builds classroom community. You may even bring out the competitive spirit in some of your kids!
2. Go Over Rules and Procedures in a Fun Way
“Fun” is the keyword. Make this engaging, or they will forget it all! They’ll be hearing many versions of classrooms rules and procedures throughout the first day of school, and not only do you want them to enjoy themselves, but you want them to commit the information to memory.
Consider making a fun powerpoint presentation filled with hilarious memes. Find the best teacher memes here. Humor has many benefits to learning, so why not start from Day 1? Create slides with your usual rules and procedures, but add a few memes to complement the information.
For going over your syllabus and expectations, try the doodle-style syllabus to spice it up (free download here).
3. Let Them Get to Know their Teacher
Just as the students should get to know each other, getting to know their teacher is an awesome way to build classroom rapport!
You can join the students in their Get to Know You Activity, like creating your own T/F quiz mentioned above. Or, you can choose to go a different route.
A big favorite is “Ask Me Anything”. In this game, the students are able to write down any questions they may have for you on an index card; they can ask you absolutely anything, no matter how random (staying school appropriate, of course.) Then, you mix up all the index cards, and read each one aloud and give the answer. They’ll have so much fun hearing their questions answered aloud, while learning a little more about you!
I’ve also put together a little “Meet the Teacher” doodle note set that you can use for introducing yourself to the students. You can also use this at parent night!
Click here to purchase this set.
Without taking up too much time (you don’t want to bore or overwhelm them), summarize what the class will cover throughout the year. You can create a few powerpoint slides. Include the topics and subtopics within the subject your teaching, as well as any unique side topics that might peak their interest.
This is also when you should briefly explain any major tests or project, so they are well aware of what’s coming!
5. Teach Doodle Note Skills
If time permits and you plan to incorporate doodle notes throughout the year, consider introducing the doodle note concept with this free Engage Your Brain Doodle Note Page! It’s a great way to spend the first day of class when you are not ready to jump into lesson content, but want to set the stage.
Doodle Notes are filled with awesome brain benefits, like increased focus and retention through activating the right hemisphere of the brain.
With this page, students will discover these benefits and give concrete examples of activities they do daily that are associated with each hemisphere. Then, they can practice combining these to cross the corpus callosum and activate their brain for learning! Later, they'll notice that extra focus and increased retention kicking in once they try it!
6. Provide a Special Treat (OR Better Yet, Structure a Way to Earn One in the Future)
This one is completely optional, but providing a special treat is a sure-fire way to win over your students! Students are almost always down for a sweet treat; you can’t go wrong with anything sugary!
If you’re concerned about allergies or your school has a no-food policy, don’t sweat it; there are plenty of inexpensive thoughtful gift ideas. Consider giving each student a fun pencil, or assembling a back to school Welcome Kit.
I don’t always prefer to start out this way, so I’m a proponent for option 2: Show how the class can work TOWARD a treat in the future. Set up a structure where they can slowly earn some kind of reward.
A simple way to do this is by coloring one item in the letters “MATH” each time you determine they have earned one. You can set this up however you want. You may want an item to get colored only on each day that ALL students submit completed homework. Or you can use it as a reward when a student gets caught doing something great. Say “I love the way you just ___. Go ahead up and color one math tool on our “MATH” board.”
Once the full word “MATH” is all colored in, the class can earn a reward. I’ve also included a mini version for a desk-sized individual option. Each student can work to earn their own reward by coloring it with a special glitter marker you only hand them as you walk around to check daily homework. If they have it complete, you offer the special pen to color one math symbol as you authorize it.
Click here for the free download if you want to give it a try.
Do you have any favorite Back to School Activities? Let us know in a comment how you’re planning to make this year’s First Day the best one yet!
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To Read Next:
I used to hear “learning stations,” and have my brain zoom straight to a mental image of a bright and colorful primary classroom, where a teacher uses the same set of stations repeating over and over on a daily basis to engage and meet the needs of all of the students. However, I finally started getting the hang of adapting the “stations” concept to meet the needs of older students. Since their longer attention spans and greater independence are an advantage, learning stations are actually an even better fit for the older age range!
There are some key points to keep in mind while implementing learning stations in middle school and high school.
Keep it Simple
Forget time-consuming gathering and prepping supplies; there’s no need to make your stations overly complicated to be fun and engaging!
Luckily, your middle and high school students have a (much) longer attention-span than kindergarteners in learning stations, and can be engaged with activities that require only thoughtful discussion and critical thinking.
If you’ve never implemented chat stations, then you absolutely must keep reading! As you might remember from college, Vygotsky developed the theory that learning occurs through social interactions.
I watched an awesome video all about Chat Stations. In the video, she explains what chat stations are, how to set one up, and how to implement them. Basically, they’re learning stations that encourage students to discuss the topic and think critically, together.
You start by writing a few questions and posting them around the room. You split the class into small groups, and they rotate around the room thoroughly discussing each question. Then, you meet back as a whole group and discuss the questions. This gives them a chance to already think about the subject, which leads to better feedback.
If you’re looking to just add another learning station to your rotation, consider using just a small piece of this. At the chat station, the small groups would discuss one or two questions, and you can still discuss as a class when learning stations are complete.
Create a “Road Map”
According to Edutopia, creating a road map or outline of all of the stations is a must. They provided a sample in the article for a lesson on Igneous Rocks.
They found that a “check- off” space or a line for a teacher signature can be very beneficial to help students stay on task and hold them accountable. Another idea to consider is requiring your students to get a stamp or a sticker, before they move on to the next station.
Carry a Clipboard
Make your life a whole lot easier and get a clipboard! This is an easy way to help your class’ learning stations run nicely and smoothly. Simply, carry a clipboard with you as you move around and monitor the class!
A clipboard with the previously-mentioned roadmap and a behavior management chart allows you to work with individual or small groups of students, while efficiently scanning the room for any off-task students.
You can document behaviors, and provide consequences and rewards however you see fit.
Include Time for Student Choice
As you have probably learned, students’ learning can be more meaningful and powerful when they get to be the ones who choose what to do, instead of being told what to do.
In his book The Highly Engaged Classroom, Dr. Robert Marzano explains why student choice is essential in our classrooms. He dives into learning theories and offers some tips on how teachers can provide meaningful choices for students.
According to Education Closet, “Marzano found that students perceive classroom activities as more important when they are given choices. It increases intrinsic motivation, increasing student effort and task performance, which therefore boosts the amount that students can learn from an activity.”
Take Advantage of One-on-One Time
This is the absolute best time to give individual students the attention they need. Instead of teaching to an entire class, you can appropriately scaffold learning while the rest of the class is still actively engaged and learning.
So, when it’s time for stations use your time wisely. You might go over the previous test with a struggling student, or extend the learning for more advanced students. Whatever it may be, strategically use this time to really individualize your students learning!
A Specific Example
Let me walk you through a set of learning stations I used in 6th grade math. I put this set together as an intro to polyhedra.
My main lesson goal here was to get kids exploring nets and visualizing all the faces, vertices, and edges. I wanted them to really get comfortable with classifying prisms and pyramids and knowing the difference between the two. This base understanding of how nets and faces are visualized is critical for their future success with surface area and volume, so I wanted them to dive deep and explore it all to really “get” that key concept.
I blended tech and hands-on to get the best of both worlds. Two stations required internet. I only used two classroom computers, since I had three in the back of the room and did not want to have to sign out the laptop cart (or maybe it was not available; I can’t remember!) You could potentially allow students to find their own video and applet resources (with guidance if needed), but I had them already chosen and set up to save time.
I put my kids into 6 groups and had them rotate through the stations every 15 minutes. Since we only had 52 minute periods, covering all six took two days. I told them that at any station, if the group ran out of time, they’d finish that station’s activity as homework or when they may have extra time at another station.
That way, after the two days, I could collect and everyone would have everything done. I put together little folders for them to carry around with all their printables, but you could really just lay the printed stack at each table.
Vocabulary cards were allowed to be completed as they worked, or saved for homework, depending on how fast each group worked.
At one station, they actually built polyhedra out of nets and then worked through a worksheet. The main goal here was to zero in on the difference between a pyramid and a prism, and of course see how the faces work. This builds understanding of surface area for later on.
At another, they watched a quick video and answered some questions about identifying a polyhedron. I even had them explore the root word “poly” and think of other words with that root and what it might mean. (See more about teaching math with root words here.)
At a third station, I let them play with online applets that allow them to “unfold” a polyhedron into its net. They could drag and roll it out, then pull it back together. Then, they practiced drawing nets from polyhedra, and polyhedra from nets.
The fourth station was all about identifying vertices, faces, and edges. I provided a reference sheet, and then the students had to complete a chart that accompanied it.
The fifth station was a fun one. I challenged the students to draw as many nets as they possibly could for a cube. I had some really great sticky note graph paper sheets for this, which they loved. They each filled up as many as possible and kept count. Regular graph paper would work well too, though!
For the last station, I offered ways to think critically about polyhedra and apply some facts about faces, vertices, and edges. They explore the number of each and work to develop Euler’s Formula in a guided way.
If you want to try this out, I have the full set of materials you’ll need. Just click here to purchase the stations as a complete lesson.
The great thing about running stations smoothly is that it frees you up as the teacher to walk around and guide each group. Ideally, everything is there for them and can be self-directed. You will be able to watch the groups explore ideas. This particular set of stations took me a lot of prep work, but it was so worth it when I saw how engaged they were. The kids surprised me by jumping in and working like a well-oiled machine. There were zero management issues. I am always impressed by how this type of structure brings out the best in a class.
Do you have any tips on implementing learning stations in middle school and high school? Let us know in a comment below!
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